|Based in||British Virgin Islands|
|Support||24/7 Live chat|
Surfshark is a VPN service that emerged in 2018. Despite being a relative newcomer in the VPN space, Surfshark feels like a very polished service. It is loaded with privacy and security features, has a great lineup of apps, and offers excellent support backing up the service.
But there are also a few drawbacks I discovered in this Surfshark review. Keep reading to see if Surfshark is a good fit for your needs, or if you should consider other options.
Here is an overview of my findings:
Pros of Surfshark
- Strong privacy protection policies
- Support for all operating systems and devices + Unlimited connections
- Secure encryption and leak protection features
- Passed an independent security audit
- Large server network around the world
- CleanWeb (ad blocker) and Whitelister (split tunneling)
- Surfshark works with Netflix
- Multi-hop VPN and other extra features
- Excellent prices and money-back guarantee
- 24/7 live chat support
Cons of Surfshark
- Variable speeds with some server locations
- No OpenVPN protocol for Mac OS
Additional research findings
- Does Surfshark work for torrenting?
- Does Surfshark work in China?
Now let’s get into the details…
Pros of Surfshark VPN
Here are the pros (advantages) of Surfshark.
1. Strong privacy protection policies
Surfshark does a great job at ensuring customer privacy remains protected. For starters, it is based in the British Virgin Islands (BVI). This is an excellent privacy jurisdiction that is safely outside the Five Eyes surveillance alliances. The BVI is politically and legally independent with strong privacy protection laws. This makes it a popular jurisdiction for banking and privacy-focused businesses. It’s also where ExpressVPN is based.
Another important aspect of jurisdiction is logs. Many countries around the world are implementing laws that cripple encryption and data privacy. There are various data retention laws now in place throughout the West, and right now the US is rolling out the EARN IT Bill. By legally incorporating in a safe overseas jurisdiction, Surfshark can better protect user privacy. From their website:
We’re based in the British Virgin Islands, which allows us to keep our VPN logs-free. We don’t collect any information that could lead us to know who you are or what you’re up to online.
Like many other VPNs and tech companies, Surfshark has a team of people working around the world.
Now on to the next important question…
Does Surfshark keep logs?
- Surfshark does not keep any logs that could identify a user or their activities online. (No IP addresses or usage data is recorded.)
- SurfShark apps have a “crash reports” option to report diagnostic info if the app crashes. This is anonymized and it can be easily disabled in the settings.
Note that many VPN services have an option to send crash reports in the apps. If you find this concerning, just disable the option in settings.
The Surfshark mobile apps may also contain an advertising ID. Again, if you find this problematic, then you can just disable it in the settings.
Surfshark Warrant Canary
Surfshark maintains a warrant canary to alert their customers to any government action that could infringe on customer privacy. Here is the latest version from their website:
As of April 7, 2020 Surfshark has received:
0 National Security letters;
0 Gag orders;
0 Warrants from a government organization.
Looks good! You generally do not see warrant canaries with US VPN services, such as IPVanish, which are subject to data requests and gag orders that prevent any disclosure.
2. Support for all operating systems and devices + Unlimited connections
Despite being a newer VPN service, Surfshark already has a great lineup of apps and support options for all major operating systems and devices.
You can use Surfshark with:
- Desktop and Laptops
- Mac OS
- Phones and tablets
- Browsers (This is a browser extension)
- Chrome (and Chromium-based browsers)
- Smart TVs (This is a smart DNS)
- Amazon Fire TV
- Apple TV
- Other Smart TVs (see website for details)
- Gaming consoles (This is a smart DNS)
Note: Do not confuse the Browser Extensions or Smart DNS for the dedicated VPN client on your operating system. In short, a browser extension only works within the browser, rather than encrypting all traffic on your operating system like a VPN. And a Smart DNS is simply modifying your DNS settings rather than encrypting all traffic.
Unlimited number of connections
Another big advantage you get with Surfshark is an unlimited number of simultaneous connections. In the VPN industry, most services limit you to about five simultaneous connections, give or take a few. Perfect Privacy also offers an unlimited number of connections, but it is significantly more expensive than Surfshark.
Here is the official policy from their website:
We offer an exclusive service to our customers – our VPN enables you to connect all your devices at once, without a limit on simultaneous connections!
3. Secure encryption and leak protection features
For encryption, Surfshark utilizes the industry standard of AES-256-GCM (Galois/Counter Mode) cipher with an RSA-2048 key exchange. Additionally, Surfshark uses the following VPN protocols:
- IKEv2 – This is considered to be a very secure protocol with excellent performance. While it usually outperforms OpenVPN, it is not open source, which is a drawback.
- OpenVPN – OpenVPN is generally considered the “gold standard” with VPNs because it offers good performance, is open source, and is considered very secure.
Depending on which Surfshark app you are using, you can select from the available VPN protocols in the settings. However, with the Mac OS client, you only have the IKEv2 option, which is a drawback we’ll discuss more below.
Note: We have previously compared OpenVPN vs IKEv2 and IPSec, and it largely comes down to user preference.
Surfshark kill switch
The Surfshark kill switch feature will block traffic if your VPN connection drops. This ensures your location and IP address remains protected, even if the VPN connection fails (for any reason). You can see the kill switch in the settings. Here is the Surfshark Windows app with the kill switch enabled:
The kill switch feature is available with Surfshark apps for Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS. I tested the kill switch with the Surfshark Windows app and everything worked well, blocking traffic when I interrupted the connection.
Surfshark leak tests (no leaks found)
For this Surfshark review, I also ran the Windows and Mac OS clients through some basic VPN tests and checks. I could not find any IP address leaks or DNS leaks. In short, everything looks to be working well.
The SurfShark Mac OS app also did well in my tests (no leaks were found).
4. Passed an independent security audit
Many VPNs are working to build trust in a rapidly-growing industry by undergoing external audits. Surfshark is going along with this (positive) trend. It underwent an audit by Cure53, a reputable cybersecurity firm based in Germany. Cure53 had this to say:
As the extremely low number of findings and their limited implications clearly indicate, the results of this Cure53 assessment of the Surfshark VPN extensions position the product in a very good light. Two members of the Cure53 team, who examined the scope in November 2018, can only conclude that the tested applications make a very robust impression and are not exposed to any issues, neither in the privacy nor in the more general security realms.
While this reads very well and is a positive development, the audit was limited to the Android and iOS browser extensions. You can read the full audit report here.
There are also a few verified no logs VPNs that have undergone external audits to verify their logging policies. (Surfshark has not done this yet.)
5. Large server network with locations around the world
For being a relatively young (new) VPN service, Surfshark has a surprisingly large number of servers around the world. The current numbers are 1,040+ servers in 61+ countries
As you can see above, all Surfshark servers run Private DNS and are P2P-friendly.
On the Surfshark website, you can see that all servers support:
- Both OpenVPN and IPSec/IKEv2 protocols
- Camouflage mode
Does Surfshark use virtual server locations?
First, let’s define what we’re talking about. A virtual server location is when a VPN server announces a location, such as Chile for example, when it is in fact located somewhere else, such as in the US. We’ve examined the issue of virtual server locations before, and there are pros and cons to doing this.
For the purpose of this Surfshark review, we can clearly see that Surfshark uses some virtual server locations for remote regions. Surfshark is transparent about this fact and clearly announces the virtual locations for transparency (unlike HideMyAss for example). You can easily see the virtual locations within the Surfshark client. They are marked with a “V” for virtual.
Note: Using virtual server locations is not a dealbreaker. ExpressVPN and others also use virtual locations in a limited number of cases to support remote regions. Like ExpressVPN, Surfshark also discloses all virtual locations.
6. CleanWeb (ad blocker) and Whitelister (split tunneling) features
Surfshark comes integrated with some cool features that I tested out for this Surfshark review. First we’ll examine the CleanWeb feature.
CleanWeb filter to block ads, trackers, malware, and phishing domains
Surfshark has a useful filtering feature called CleanWeb. This feature blocks ads, trackers, malware and phishing domains, as well as “suspicious links” that are on their blacklist. There are some nice advantages to VPN ad blockers, which can efficiently block domains at the VPN server via DNS requests, rather than relying on browser extensions.
You can enable CleanWeb in the Surfshark settings. This feature is available in the Windows, Mac OS, Android, and iOS apps. Here is the CleanWeb feature I tested out for this review with the Windows client and it worked well.
I tested this out by visiting some ad-infested websites with CleanWeb enabled. It looks to be working very well as all ads were effectively blocked.
Other VPNs also offer ad-blocking features, such as NordVPN with the CyberSec feature.
Whitelister (split tunneling) feature
Like with CleanWeb, the Whitelister feature is also activated directly in the Surfshark app settings (see the screenshot above). This tool allows you to “Select apps or websites & IPs to bypass VPN.”
This may be useful in certain cases. For example if you have a streaming service that blocks the VPN, then bypassing the VPN with only that app may be helpful. This is another feature that we also see being offered by other VPNs, such as with ProtonVPN.
7. Surfshark works with Netflix
If you need a good VPN for Netflix, Surfshark is a solid choice.
I tested out Surfshark with US Netflix and everything worked perfectly. I used the Seattle server and was able to unblock all content. Streaming quality was also perfect without any interruptions.
Out of curiosity, I also asked Surfshark support what other Netflix regions they support. The answer was impressive with a long list of Netflix regions around the world:
Many people want access to American Netflix because it offers the largest library anywhere, and you can access it with any Netflix account and a VPN server in the US. Surfshark, however, gives you many options if you enjoy streaming Netflix with a VPN.
See our list of best VPNs for Netflix for additional options.
8. Multi-hop VPN and other extra features
Surfshark offers a multi-hop VPN feature, which will route your traffic over two different VPN servers. As of the time of this Surfshark review, there are thirteen different double-hop server configurations available. These can be selected directly within the Surfshark client under Locations > MultiHop.
This can be a good feature if you are looking for more encryption and privacy above and beyond a single-hop connection. However, speeds will likely be slower than single-hop servers.
We have a multi-hop VPN guide that dives into this topic more if you are interested.
Extra (paid) features
Surfshark also offers a few additional features, beyond what we’ve covered above. These two features are referred to as “Privacy Beyond VPN” and are available for an additional $.99 per month:
- HackLock – Get real-time alerts when your emails & passwords are at risk of being hacked.
- BlindSearch – The real incognito mode for searches you don’t want anyone to see.
You can see these features in the VPN client, but they are blurred out below because I did not purchase them for this review.
You may find this package to be useful for a small monthly fee. However, there are many different private search engines available that are free. There are also identity theft monitoring services, but they can be quite pricey.
9. Excellent prices and money-back guarantee
Surfshark is one of the lowest-priced VPNs that still offers a high-quality service. This makes it a great value at only $1.99 per month with the two-year plan. So your total price is only $47.46 for a two-year subscription, which is surprisingly cheap.
You can get all the pricing info on the Surfshark website here.
Surfshark supports all major payment options: credit cards, PayPal, Google Pay, Amazon Pay, and cryptocurrencies.
Surfshark 30-day refund policy
Surfshark offers a 30-day refund policy on all plans. This is a great refund window as many VPNs restrict refunds to only one week.
Reading through the terms and conditions, there are a few exceptions for mobile apps and gift cards.
We can refund you on the basis of our 30-day money-back guarantee. Except if you signed up via iTunes/App Store or with a prepaid card/gift card. These are out of our hands.
These exceptions are pretty standard. You can see the respective mobile stores for their refund policies.
10. Live chat support available 24/7
In working on this Surfshark review, I had many interactions with their support team. I found the support to be fast and helpful. You can access the live chat support directly through the website and it is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I also found the Surfshark website to have lots of good info. There is a dedicated support domain with dozens of tutorials and guides.
Cons of Surfshark VPN
Now let’s examine the cons (drawbacks) of Surfshark VPN.
1. Variable speeds with some server locations
I ran lots of speed tests for this Surfshark review. In some locations the speeds were great, but other server locations were not as fast. My baseline speed for testing was around 100 Mbps and I ran all tests from my location in the US.
When you are using the Surfshark VPN client, there’s an option for “Fastest Server”. The app will select a server close to your location with low server loads. I tested this out and the app connected me to the Surfshark Seattle server and the speeds were great: 99 Mbps.
This is essentially maxing out my baseline connection speed, which is excellent. (The fastest server feature worked well.)
Next I tested out a Surfshark server in Los Angeles. The speeds were still good, but not as fast as before: 73 Mbps.
I also tested other servers throughout the US and Canada. The speeds in some locations were quite a bit slower than the Seattle server. The slowest Surfshark server I tested was in New York at around 19 Mbps.
The Surfshark servers in Canada that I tested gave me the following speeds:
- Vancouver: 66 Mbps
- Montreal: 22 Mbps
I also tested the Canada > United Stated double-hop server configuration and got about 20 Mbps.
Based on my own tests, Surfshark speeds can be hit-or-miss. The “Fastest Server” worked well, but other servers left something to be desired. However, the speeds were never horrible, which was good.
While these results certainly aren’t bad, they are not quite on par with other top-rated VPN services. For example, in our updated NordVPN vs ExpressVPN comparison, these two market leaders were consistently fast and reliable.
2. No OpenVPN protocol for Mac OS
Another drawback I found with Surfshark is that there is no OpenVPN protocol with the Mac OS client. Instead, you only have the IKEv2 VPN protocol to use. You can see this in the Mac OS client here:
As noted above, IKEv2 is a secure and fast protocol and it works well on Mac OS. But it’s also not open source like OpenVPN. With Surfshark only supporting IKEv2, it’s probably not the best VPN for Mac if you want more options for protocol section.
Additional research findings
Here are some additional research findings and test results for this Surfshark VPN review.
Does Surfshark work for torrenting?
While it may not be the best VPN for torrenting, Surfshark is still a good choice.
According to the Surfshark website, all servers are P2P friendly.
With decent speeds, good leak protection settings, no logs, and safe, secure apps, Surfshark is a good option to consider. Torrenters may also find peace of mind knowing that Surfshark is not forced to comply with DMCA laws because they are based in the British Virgin Islands. Therefore legal notices and copyright demands should not affect Surfshark users in any way.
Does Surfshark work in China?
Surfshark has a built-in feature called NoBorders, which they developed to help users get around VPN blocks and restrictions. This will be useful in China. VPNs use different names for this feature, such as the Chameleon protocol with VyprVPN.
The Surfshark NoBorders feature can be enabled directly in the app. This should allow you to use the VPN in areas where VPNs may be blocked, such as in China.
Note: Surfshark also has a “Camouflage mode” feature that obfuscates VPN traffic. This feature is enabled with the OpenVPN protocol (UDP and TCP). While this is similar to the “NoBorders” feature, they are separate.
Also note that Camouflage mode is not available in Mac OS, which only uses the IKEv2 protocol.
Surfshark review conclusion
Surfshark has a lot going for it, despite being one of the newer VPN services to enter the market. When you consider that it’s only $1.99 per month with the 83% discount offer, it looks to be a good value, if not one of the best cheap VPNs on the market.
As a brief recap, here are the highlights of Surfshark VPN:
- Great apps for all major devices and operating systems
- Unlimited number of connections
- Based in a safe offshore jurisdiction (BVI) with a good no logs policy
- Good leak protection features (kill switch) with strong encryption
- Multi-hop VPN servers (13 to choose from)
- CleanWeb feature to block ads, trackers, malware, and phishing domains
- Split tunneling feature (Whitelister)
- Works well with Netflix and other streaming channels
- 24/7 live chat support and a 30 day money-back guarantee
Overall Surfshark is one of the better VPNs I’ve tested and will likely make it to the next update of the best VPN list.
If you want to give Surfshark a try, grab the 83% discount offer here.